Medicaid stakeholders OK with healthy behavior incentives, oppose penalizing recipients who don’t take part in cost sharing

By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Groups of people concerned about changes in Kentucky’s Medicaid program are open to the state offering incentives for healthy behaviors, but they don’t want to penalize recipients who can’t or won’t pay premiums, deductibles or co-payments.

So reports the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which convened a meeting May 12 to hear from people with stakes in the program: individual health-care providers, health systems, consumers, consumer advocates, payers, public-health professionals and representatives of higher education.

“Participants were unified in opposing penalties to enforce
cost-sharing provisions” such as premiums, deductibles or co-payments, the foundation’s consultant said in a report on the meeting.

However, they supported cost sharing for procedures not deemed medically necessary and “had diverse perspectives on this matter, ranging
from opposing any cost-sharing in Medicaid to proposing specific premium and
co-payment amounts,” such as $5 monthly premiums.

Also, “Participants were generally very supportive of implementing
incentives for healthy behaviors such as smoking cessation and health risk
assessments,” the report said. “Incentives might be reductions in the amount of cost-sharing or
themselves supportive of healthy behavior,” such as gym membership.

Gov. Matt Bevin has said he wants Medicaid recipients to have “skin in the game” through cost-sharing, arguing that Kentucky can’t afford to have more than a fourth of its population getting free medical care.

Under federal health reform, then-Gov, Steve Beshear expanded Medicaid eligibility to households with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, adding more than 400,000 more people to the rolls. The federal government pays for the expansion through this year, but next year the state will be responsible for 5 percent, rising in annual steps to the reform law’s limit of 10 percent in 2020.

Bevin’s administration is working on getting a waiver from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to create new ways to cover those in the expansion. Six states have such waivers, including Indiana, which Bevin has cited as an example of how Kentucky might change its program.

In Indiana, recipients who pay premiums based on income levels, ranging from $1 a month to 2 percent of income ($27 a month for those at 138 percent of poverty) get expanded benefits and are charged co-payments only for non-emergency use of emergency rooms, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Those above the poverty level who fail to pay are disenrolled and barred from re-enrolling for six months, in what is known as a “lock-out” rule.

Bevin has indicated that he wants to announce his plan this summer. By law, states that seek a waiver must hold at least two public hearings: one at least 20 days before submitting the application to CMS, and the second after CMS accepts the application.

Stakeholders who attended the foundation’s May 12 convening wanted to make sure their voices were heard early on in the process.

“Our goal is to help inform the process of changing the way Kentucky provides Medicaid services to ensure that we maintain the gains achieved under the Affordable Care Act, while also enabling the state to try new methods of ensuring access to affordable quality health care for Medicaid beneficiaries,” Foundation President and CEO Susan Zepeda said in a news release.

“The biggest takeaway for me was the energy and commitment in the room,” Zepeda said in a telephone interview. “A lot of thoughtfulness clearly went into sharing their experience and making suggestions on how to make the system more cost effective.”

Before breaking into groups to offer their imput, stakeholders were given an overview of the state’s Medicaid expansion and an overview of an issue brief created by the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota that looked at how waiver provisions are set up in five other states. Foundation staff wrote the 25-page “Stakeholder Input Report” that summarized suggestions and concerns and broke them into eight areas:

Cost-sharing and penalties: Health-care providers strongly opposed any cost-sharing, and uniformly opposed to any measure that involved “lock-out” penalties for failure to pay premiums, co-pays or deductibles.

“Our shared experience has been that we’ve been prohibited from denying care if a patient refuses or is unable to pay,” the Physical and Oral Health Provider group said. “Therefore, the desired behavior isn’t actually enforced.”

The Behavioral Health Provider group offered a compromise: “If the administration chooses to explore lock-outs we recommend that lock-outs be immediately lifted (upon payment) and payment be retroactive to the date the consumer re-enrolls.”

Participants in general were open to the idea of low co-payments, cost-sharing for non-medically necessary services, using Medicaid dollars to pay premiums for employer-sponsored insurance plans and charging co-payments for non-emergency use of the ER. They also agreed that certain groups, like those with chronic illnesses or disabilities, should be exempted.

Incentives: Most post-ACA waiver programs have implemented incentives for healthy behavior, and those at the meeting generally supported implementing evidence-based incentives, such as smoking cessation and health-risk assessments.

Zepeda said that most of the stakeholders wanted to see healthy behavior incentives used as credits against premiums, especially for recipients who can’t afford them. “There is a recognition that people have a role to play in their own health care and the health decisions that they make,” she said.

Benefits: Benefits include services covered under the health insurance plan. Some participants opposed any changes to current benefits; others wanted to expand existing benefits and still others suggested adding new benefits like housing. All agreed that medically necessary services should be covered for all enrollees.

Reimbursement: Kentucky shifted Medicaid in 2011 to managed care, in which managed-care organizations (usually insurance-company subsidiaries) are paid a flat fee per person as an incentive to limit claims. Providers have complained about the slow and low reimbursement, and participant suggestions included streamlining and accelerating the reimbursement process, increasing provider reimbursement rates, and adding new categories of reimbursed services and providers, like telehealth.

Systems improvement: Participants suggested simplifying administrative processes for providers; expanding providers’ scope of practice; adding review panels; reducing the number of managed-care organizations; and creating a single list of drugs for all MCOs.


Health system transformation: Waivers allow states to explore ways to provide care differently through various transformation approaches. Suggestions included creating price transparency, through an all-payer, all-claims database; improving consumer health literacy; and moving beyond coverage issues to addressing access and quality.

“There was also interest among our group in examining a PCMH (patient-centered medical
home) or health homes model to promote care coordination, and we feel strongly that
pharmacists are essential part of the team and should be used in novel and more expansive
ways,” the Colleges and Universities group said.

Evaluation: Waivers require states to perform an evaluation and make it public. Participants agreed that the process should include stakeholders and that findings should be made public periodically.

The Physical and Oral
Health Provider group suggested the evaluation should answer the questions, “Have we maintained coverage levels? Have we improved access to care?”

Overarching themes: Many of the stakeholders mentioned two issues that were not included in the issue brief or discussion: integrating behavioral, physical and oral health services, and addressing the wide set of social factors that shape Kentucky’s relatively poor health.

“Waivers should include methods to address social determinants of health as these areas
are proving most effective in improving outcomes and reducing cost,” the Physical and Oral Health Provider group said. “We encourage
inclusion of community health workers, peer support, medical respite care and other
innovations to support social needs of patients.”

Zepeda said the Medicaid waiver drafting team faces many challenges. “We consider the rich conversation that happened on May 12 to be the start of the conversation,” she said. “We have to find the cost effective win/win strategies that can reduce the cost of Medicaid going forward and let us continue to serve this expanded number of Kentuckians who now have health insurance.”

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